America’s long night into torture


UnknownTorture is universally condemned, and whatever its actual practice, no country openly advocates  for the use of torture.

Torture is illegal under both U.S. statutory criminal law, and several international treaties and conventions of war to which the U.S. is not only a signatory to the agreement, but was the principle author and proponent of the agreement.

Torture is illegal. Period. Stop.

Despite this, the Bush-Cheney regime not only concocted convoluted legal theories to justify illegal torture, i.e., the Torture Memos, but engaged in illegal torture in violation of U.S. and international law.

The nonpartisan Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, conducted an independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it. U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes.

A 6,700 page report by the bipartisan United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s Detention and Interrogation Program, and its use of various forms of torture on detainees also “concludes that CIA abuses were far more brutal, systematic, and widespread than previously reported; that many of the CIA’s interrogation techniques went beyond even those authorized by the Justice Department; and that the CIA began using the techniques long before they had obtained authorization for them.” US: Senate Report Slams CIA Torture, Lies.

In 2005, after the Bush-Cheney torture program was first revealed in the media, Sen. John McCain pursued an amendment to the defense appropriations act of 2006, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, colloquially known as the “McCain Amendment,” which sought to end the Bush-Cheney regime’s practice of illegal torture.

The “McCain Amendment” was enacted into law, Bush accepts Sen. McCain’s torture policy, but President Bush immediately signed a presidential signing statement, President’s Statement on Signing of H.R. 2863, in which Bush asserted that he has the executive authority to waive the torture restriction in the name of national security (i.e., the Jack Bauer scenario of the TV series “24”).

I will never forget the image of Sen. McCain standing next to President Bush during a presser in which Bush talked about his signing statement, with McCain looking dejected, like a dog who had just been beaten into submission.

In 2008, Congress passed legislation to constrain the intelligence community to the Army Field Manual’s techniques of interrogation. Sen. McCain, who was running for president, actually voted against this bill and recommended that President Bush veto it, which Bush did. Congress did not override his veto.

When President Obama took office, one of his first acts was to sign an executive order, Executive Order 13491, ending the Bush-Cheney illegal torture program.

To my great astonishment, however, both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder elected not to prosecute anyone involved in the Bush-Cheney illegal torture program. President Obama even stated:

“[N]othing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past … we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.”

This always struck me as the Keystone Cop who says of a crime scene, “Nothing to see here folks, move along.”

While there is widespread agreement that the heinous crime of torture was committed, Americans lack the fortitude to prosecute our political leaders for war crimes, because it speaks to the darkness in our own souls for having permitted such heinous crimes to be committed in our name. We are complicit silent accomplices to the crime, so we deny any crime was committed and our own guilt, to our great shame. We owe it to ourselves and to the world to prosecute these crimes to demonstrate that we really are a nation of laws, in order to restore our moral standing in the world.

Which brings me to this latest development. Sen. John McCain, for all his bitter sore-loser nastiness toward President Obama over the years, agreed to work with him to codify his Executive Order 13491 into statutory law. On Tuesday, the Senate agreed to the bill cosponsored by Sen. McCain. Senate Votes to Turn Presidential Ban on Torture Into Law:

The Senate voted Tuesday to ban the use of torture, moving to ensure that the government does not return to interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

In a vote of 78-21, senators approved an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would restrict all government entities, not just the military, to using only the interrogation techniques described in the Army Field Manual.

The amendment would enshrine in law an executive order that President Obama signed in 2009 permitting only noncoercive interrogation methods.

“I believe past interrogation policies compromised our values, stained our national honor and did little practical good,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who was a sponsor of the measure. “This amendment provides greater assurances that never again will the United States follow that dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs.”

The provision, which was supported by all Senate Democrats and 32 Republicans, would also codify an executive order by Mr. Obama requiring that the Red Cross be granted access to detainees in American custody.

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A 2005 law [the “McCain Amendment”] prohibited the Pentagon from using harsh interrogation methods. Those restrictions did not apply to the C.I.A. and other agencies until Mr. Obama issued his executive order.

The absence of a broader law means that a future president could overturn the executive order.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who sponsored the measure with Mr. McCain, said the amendment would ensure that lawmakers, not government lawyers, set the parameters for interrogations.

The Intelligence Committee released a scathing report in December condemning the C.I.A. for actions during the George W. Bush administration. Included were what it called the agency’s brutal treatment of detainees, a lack of oversight over its secret prisons worldwide, and routine misleading of the White House and Congress about what it had collected through interrogations.

As Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog snarked, Senate votes to make torture even more illegal than it already is. And Justice wept, still waiting for anyone to be prosecuted for their crimes.